Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Olfactory Cyclist


Faint oleander.
Dinner smells, three types along the way: meat (hamburger, perhaps meatloaf), some heavenly garlicky caserole cheezy herbaceous thing, and curry)
Evening, after light rain.

The preceding represents the memorable parts of my bicycle commute tonight, from the perspective of my nose. Scent is probably the most mysterious of our senses, linked directly to memory, more subtle yet more influencing than we usually recognize, or know. I've mentioned countless times here how cycling exposes me to the outside world in wonderful and multiple ways that everyone who commutes by car generally misses out on, but I don't think I've ever spent the majority of the commute just concentrating on the sense of smell. So I did that tonight, and was humbled. 

First, except for the profound and relatively distinct scents listed above, much of what I detected was fleeting, hard to categorize, or even not recognizable. Second, we don't have, or at least I don't have, vocabulary well suited to telling a story by scent alone. I remember watching a documentary which included people who make their living designing scents, perfumes, cosmetics, even food additives, and a large part of their profession was in maintaining a library of scents that they were familiar with, which they used in layers and combinations to build up the desired result. Until Blogger adds a Smell-o-vision widget, which on second thought might be generally unwelcome on a bicycle-related blog anyway, the short list at the top of this post is about as far as I can get.

Except to say, most of all, the vanilla stumped me. It was intense, as if someone dumped a pint of Häagen-Dazs in the bike lane, or broke a bottle of vanilla flavoring on their driveway. It's actually what got me started on this program, as I contemplated that first scent, I decided to follow my nose all the way home.

So, a kind of new beginning for me, or a new perspective, call it focused olfactory investigations on two wheels. I found it challenging. It was like turning the last sense I use into the first. And it changed my perception of the ride. I promise, this won't devolve into One Scent: Smell! But on the other hand, nozzling up the faint molecules riding on the wind, attempting to process, perceive, and categorize them, seems like fair game. What might I learn? What might I discover out there riding around? It's my blog, I'll sniff I I want to.

Not any more, I presume


  1. I ride past a candy factory on my regular route- it's a highlight of my ride most nights.

    But just riding through a residential area can be a real study in what's for dinner. More so here in the summer when people have windows open.

  2. Through the park on weekends.
    All sorts o'yummyness on grills.
    Breath deep and ride on.
    The end is near.


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